Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James Pharis, July 24, 1977. Interview H-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Improvements over time in the mill industry

Pharis describes some of the changes he has witnessed over his four decades as a mill worker. Wages have risen, the amount of machinery has increased, and the relationship between employees and their supervisors has improved.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James Pharis, July 24, 1977. Interview H-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CLIFF KUHN:
In the forty years that you were involved in the textile industry, what kind of changes did you see?
JAMES PHARIS:
Oh my gosh, I've seen alot of changes and all for the better.
CLIFF KUHN:
Like what?
JAMES PHARIS:
Wages for one thing. I can remember when general semi-skilled labor in the textile plant, what you call a semi-skilled mechanic, was making seventy-five cents a day. I never will forget when they give a general raise of five dollars a week. Eighty-three and a third cents a day, and boy, they said things was getting right then. If you got a five cent raise then, why, you was happy. I know one time during call it the depression right after WWI textiles had gotten pretty bad and we were on three days a week for about a year. Sears Roebuck offered the company a big order at a price they would pay. Not a price that the company would ask. Well, the company got a hold of the help and says, "We can start up and run this order provided you all take a cut in wages." Everybody says, "Yes sir, we'll take one."
CLIFF KUHN:
What other changes? You mentioned before the number of looms went up.
JAMES PHARIS:
Oh yes, looms is triple what they was back in them days. I can remember when four and six looms was a job. But the people back in them days didn't have to work—they worked eleven hours a day—but they didn't have to work as hard. I don't suppose they work less hard on the job. Anything you done, you got rest. You had spare time, you could keep your job open with as small amount of machinery as you had to run and get rest on it.
CLIFF KUHN:
In general, how about relationships between supervisors and the people who worked under the supervisors—how have those relationships changed?
JAMES PHARIS:
Back in older time and now?
CLIFF KUHN:
Yeah.
JAMES PHARIS:
Quite a difference. You used to work for the supervisor because you were scared. I seen a time when I'd walk across the road to keep from meeting my supervisor on Sunday, Saturday or Sunday now. They was a hat stomping kind. If you done anything, they'd throw their hat on the floor and stomp it and raise hell. I never will forget after things got better while I was in the Carolina Council, I made a talk to the Carolina Council. They had me on in the music department at that time. And they had me to represent the music department at the Carolina Council. I made a speech and I brought that out. Awhile before then, a good while before then, they sent me around—me and a bunch of people—all the plants to go through all the plants and see what we thought about the way things were going. Well, some of the plants that I went to some of the old supervisors were still there. When I went through the plant, they were just as nice as they could be. They didn't even have on a hat. The hat would be off and I brought that out in my speech and you talking about getting a hand. [Laughter] But some of the same people that was the hat stomping kind back under the old rule, they in there now and working with the people. Everything looks so much nicer. Everybody was well-pleased, seemed like.
CLIFF KUHN:
And you feel this continued?
JAMES PHARIS:
Kept on continuing up until the present time. Labor, they got more to do now than they had then but they got a easy way to do it. They treated nice by the supervisor. That driving out of supervisors is gone. There's no more of that, that I hear.